Saturday, April 3, 2010

How To Uproot Terrorism From The Start

It was not surprising for me to read that Yudi Zulfahri, recruiter and facilitator for Jamaah Islamiyah in Aceh, and his two college friends, Gema Awal Ramadhan and Agam Fitriadi, were among the terrorists arrested in Aceh. I first met Yudi at the As Shunnah mosque in Bandung at the beginning of 2007 while undertaking field research.

Yudi was attending Jamaah As Shunnah (JA)’s weekly radical group meeting and the group’s leader, Ustadz Lesmana who is also an acquaintance of the al-Qaeda operative Umar Al Faruq, introduced him to me. Yudi was at the time new to radicalism and lacked an in-depth knowledge of Islam. So did his two friends, whom he brought to our next meeting. Yudi told JA that his reason for joining the group was because he wanted to do something for oppressed Muslims and felt rejected by society due to his fundamental Islamic views. He also mentioned that he needed to have a community that shared his passion for jihad and hatred of non-Muslims. During further weekly meetings at this radical mosque, Yudi showed his enthusiasm of violent jihad to his new radical friends.

He actively voiced his concern over the innocent victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and expressed his desire to get involved, consulting JA members on how to get into Iraq or Afghanistan. Yudi also invited some members of the group to go to South Thailand and proposed setting up a military training camp in Aceh. Meanwhile, besides attending weekly JA meetings, Yudi also paid frequent visits to the jailed MMI military trainer Yuli Harsono and the jailed Jamaah Tauhid wal Jihad leader, Aman Abdurrahman. In addition, Yudi also suggested that the group make radical changes by appointing a new and younger amirul jihad (jihad leader) and military commander to prepare the group for future terrorist attacks in Bandung and Jakarta.

Yudi’s fast moves raised the suspicions of Ustadz Lesmana. Not only did he lack Islamic knowledge, but his presence had split the group into two factions: One wanted to lay low and the other wanted to be more active in pursuing violent jihad through active military training, bomb making training, conducting surveillance and building networks with other radical groups in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Ustadz Lesmana suspected that Yudi might be a government agent because of his job as a civil servant.

For security reasons, Ustadz Lesmana encouraged other JA members to isolate Yudi and those members who shared his impatience to pursue terrorism. Feeling rejected, Yudi left the group in search of another more radical group. From another JA member I learnt that he wanted to prove to people that he was a real jihadist and JA’s rejection only confirmed his determination for jihad. As reported by media, Yudi moved to Jakarta, and joined a radical group associated with Aman Abdurrahman’s Jamaah Tauhid wal Jihad. He also met Sofyan Tsauri who introduced him to Dulmatin.

The process of Yudi’s involvement with radical and terrorist groups is interesting to observe. His perceived marginalization by society due to different religious ideas drove him to find a radical group to where he could feel acceptance. When he joined JA, he crossed what John Horgan, expert in the psychology of terrorism, calls the “alienation threshold”, a point at which he retreated into a small group of like-minded and angry people. Here he was involved in an intense period of in-group socialization through which he was indoctrinated by radical teachers such as Halawi and Aman Abdurrahman using books written by Egyptian Syekh Abdul Qadir Bin Abdul Aziz, such as Al Wala’ wal Baro (Love and Hate for God’s sake), Al-Umdah fi I’dadal-Uddah (The Fundamentals of Preparedness for Holy War), Al-Jami’ fi Talab al-‘Ilm al-Sharif (The Compilation on Seeking Honorable Knowledge) and Ma’alim Asasiyah fil Jihad (Manual for Jihadi Jurisprudence).

Yudi’s next stage of becoming a terrorist was accelerated by the alienation he experienced from JA which pushed him across Horgan’s “violence threshold”, a point at which he was ready to commit violence. He was arrested in the final stage of becoming a terrorist, namely in preparation for an attack. Yudi’s journey to terrorism might have been stopped if people around him had have intervened before he crossed the alienation threshold. Parents, friends and religious teachers could have engaged him in dialogue regarding his religious views and social or political grievances. Even after he joined JA, he might have stayed away from terrorism if JA leaders and members had not isolated him but instead instilled in him a milder view.

Besides Yudi, there were two other JA members who were similarly isolated, one of whom did not pursue terrorism despite strong intentions to kill Americans. The reason, he told me, was that his family, friends and more importantly religious teachers talked to him and kept persuading him to avoid violent jihad. People like Yudi are not so different from us. We all need acceptance, we all need a community to which we feel we can belong and contribute positively, and we all need respect.
It is all very well for us to judge and despise “terrorists”, but it might be more productive if we are able to put aside these initial responses and to try to understand the individual journey’s such people make and why they might make them.

Only with such an understanding then can we start to help them address the grievances they face and find the support they need without resorting to terrorism. The writer Muh Taufiqurrohman, Jakarta holds a masters in International Relations from UNPAR and has undertaken research on terrorism.

1 comment:

  1. You're right - isolation of both individuals or groups can be a major factor in creating the terrorist. A 'terrorist' is a term that can be bent (were those opposed to Nazi occupation and took up arms terrorists or freedom fightters?). The root cause of Islamic terrorism is the perception that the west is unjust towards Islam and its followers. The major source of irritation is the unswerving US and western support for Israel and its arrogance in the occupied territories, failure to allow refugees to return and dishonesty in claiming to want a 'peaceful solution' while continuing illegal settlements, targetted murder and occupation of conquered territory. Until the Middle East is settled there will always be a source of terrorism.